Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ten Days of Terror!: A Field in England

Film: A Field in England
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

There is a trend in modern horror films, or at least a branch of modern horror films, where the horror specifically comes from not knowing what is going on. The horror isn’t about physical danger (although that is often a part of it), or some terrible creature from beyond space and time, but about a disconnection from reality and a possible descent into insanity. I’m not sure when this started—movies that have played with bending reality have been around for a long time. But they feel a lot more common right now, and they seem very specifically to crop up over and over in the horror realm. There were some before the success of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), but they seem to be everywhere now. One of those early pre-Oscar-win adopters is Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England.

The story takes place during the English Civil War. A man named Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) has been charged by his master, an alchemist, to track down a man who stole materials from him. During a battle, Whitehead is rescued by a man named Cutler (Ryan Pope). The two then encounter two deserters, the rough and brutal Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and the simple and open Friend (Richard Glover). Cutler claims there is an alehouse in the vicinity, and the four go off to find it.

As it turns out, Cutler works for O’Neill (Michael Smiley), the alchemist Whitehead has been looking for. O’Neill soon takes control of the entire group, claiming that there is a treasure buried in the field they are in. He also believes that Whitehead has some talents that he can use—specifically that he can be tortured into being used as a sort of treasure-finding divining rod, and naturally this is what happens.

I see that I have forgotten to mention that most of the characters here, with the exception of Whitehead, who has taken an oath that involves fasting, spend a lot of their time in this field eating mushrooms. Whitehead eventually partakes in the wild mushrooms as well. This is important, because a great deal of what happens here can easily be seen as more or less a hallucinogenic trip. This is particularly true when Whitehead gorges himself on the mushrooms and the film itself clearly detaches itself from reality.

There are some interesting things going on in A Field in England, but this is the kind of film that makes me wonder what the hell the point was. This is a film where the entire point is who is in control of the group of people aren’t really doing anything that important, where a treasure buried in a field may or may not be, and who walks away. That we get what is ultimately one of the head-slapping platitudes I’ve come across in a film in a long time. It caused me to wonder if A Field in England was not perhaps some extended goof, a joke pulled on the audience, 90-minutes for us to essentially get to a Hallmark card before the credits roll.

The problem with movies like A Field in England is exactly that—they feel like a joke the director is pulling on the people watching. It is expertly made and competently acted. It is what everyone would call a “good movie” based on those elements. But it very clearly feels like the sort of movie that is going to get a lot of praise (the average rating is 3.4/5 on Letterboxd) in part because people who like and are passionate about movies are supposed to like it. In that respect I feel a great deal like I did when I watched Under the Skin. There’s at least a portion of the people claiming to like it because to not like it brands you as someone who didn’t understand it.

Here's the thing—I’m genuinely not convinced there’s a lot to understand. I think the Emperor is parading around without his clothes again, something oddly appropriate here since there are several instances of exposed penises.

I wanted to like this and thought I would. And I didn’t.

Why to watch A Field in England : Full-frontal male nudity?
Why not to watch: It makes as much sense as a flavored suppository.


  1. I've heard a lot of things about this film though I haven't seen anything by Ben Wheatley yet though I do have a DVD copy of Free Fire that I need to watch.

    1. I think I'm unusual in the being someone who didn't love this. From what I understand, it's very much a movie nerd movie, but it didn't work for me.